Mississippi close to removing rebel emblem from its flag

Mississippi state Rep. John Faulkner, D-Holly Springs, wears a mask in honor of George Floyd on Saturday, June 27, 2020, in the House chamber of the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss., as lawmakers listen to debate on suspension of rules in order to consider legislation for changing the flag.

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi legislators were working Sunday to change the state flag by removing a Confederate battle emblem that’s broadly condemned as racist.

The House passed a bill 91-23 with broad bipartisan support, sending it to the Senate for more debate.

“How sweet it is to celebrate this on the Lord’s day,” said Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn, who has pushed for five years to change the flag. “Many prayed to Him to bring us to this day. He has answered.”

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill, and the state flag would lose its official status as soon as he signs the measure. A commission would design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust.”

Under the legislation, the new design — without the Confederate symbol — would be put on the ballot Nov. 3, but it would be the only choice. If a majority accept the new design, it would become the state flag. If a majority reject it, the commission would design a new flag using the same guidelines.

The flag’s supporters resisted efforts to change it for decades, but rapid developments in recent weeks have changed dynamics on this issue in the tradition-bound state.

As protests against racial injustice recently spread across the U.S., including Mississippi, leaders from business, religion, education and sports have spoken forcefully against the state flag. They have urged legislators to ditch the 126-year-old banner for one that better reflects the diversity of a state with a 38% Black population.

The state House and Senate met Saturday and took a big step: By two-thirds margins, they suspended legislative deadlines so a flag bill could be filed. Spectators cheered as each chamber voted, and legislators seeking the change embraced each other.

Democratic Sen. David Jordan, who is African American, has pushed for decades to change the flag. He smiled broadly after Saturday’s vote and said, “This is such a metamorphosis.”

Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. The flag has been divisive for generations. All of the state’s public universities have stopped flying it, as have a growing number of cities and counties.

White supremacists in the Mississippi Legislature set the state flag design in 1894 during backlash to the political power that African Americans gained after the Civil War.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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